By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
Controversy continues to surface regarding just about every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in these waning days of April, it’s readily apparent that controversy related to the virus and its impact on society and our way of life will continue for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of the what takes place in the months ahead — whether we can resume what once were “normal” activities — this remains certain: We’ll need accurate and regular communications on what’s happening next week, next month and next year.
Yesterday, PRSA Chicago hosted a Zoom webinar, “Leading Through Crisis and Establishing a New Normal for Communicators After the Apex.” A long-standing member of the Chapter, I took in the presentation, which featured three senior communications professionals:
- Jim Cohn, Senior Director, External Relations, for Walgreens
- Rodrigo A. Sierra, Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President with the American Medical Association
- Heather Woodard, APR, Multicultural PR and Engagement Communications Lead with McDonald’s U.S.A.
Here are summarized and bulleted recollections from the panelists:
- Avoid being opportunistic when issuing communications.
- Unlike other crisis situations, developments in the COVID-19 crisis often change hourly.
- Communicators must update messages on a continual basis — both to internal and external audiences.
- What was not considered newsworthy in the past may be newsworthy today.
- Regularly try to demonstrate progress on communications to stakeholders.
- Senior leaders should reach out to employees on a regular basis.
- Maintain credibility, honesty and transparency when addressing a competing interest.
- Listen to feedback from all audiences.
- The virtual workplace will be in place for a long time; get accustomed to managing teams, media and internal communications remotely.
- CEOs now have to respond to stakeholders and the media via Zoom or an online platform; this may require additional coaching.
- Grasp how relationships with business partners have changed during the advent of the crisis.
- Demonstrate the value of effective public relations during these unprecedented times.
- Collaboration between other business or organizational units has been positive during the pandemic.
- Recognize that a greater segment of society now recognizes the value of effective communications.
- Some organizations now field many, many more media inquiries than prior to the pandemic — some up to 100 per day. And, some organizations issue multiple news announcements daily.
One great feature of Zoom is the ability to pose a question. I’m proud to note that my question — “What have you learned during the pandemic that can be employed in the future?” — was the final query addressed. The responses:
Rodrigo: Communicate often and be as transparent as possible, both to internal and external audiences.
Heather: Be transparent and be human; let the world see you without wearing a tie.
Jim: You can’t over-communicate today. Be prepared to manage a long list of FAQs.
And, I’ll conclude with one other suggestion from a panelist: Communicators need a day off, which I wholeheartedly support.